It’s a tough world out there in publishing, but it doesn’t have to be impossible for new writers. Sometimes it seems like experienced writers have access to a secret club full of other experienced writers; in other words, to the new writer, it often feels like publishing is a clique. I wish, dear reader, that I could laugh and dispel this notion, but I can’t. Because publishing is a clique. So much of it relies on who you know, who knows you, and the little favors you do for one another. A new writer does have a good chance of breaking into this world, but only if he or she makes an effort not only to produce great content, but also to abide by a few tips and tricks that make the process so much easier.
Tip #1: Find a community
Because publishing is a community of writers and editors, it helps to find a community before you do much else. Not only can these communities answer your questions, but they can also be a great source of support when that tenth rejection letter for your novel arrives in your inbox. Depending your genre, dozens of forums, meet-ups, and email groups exist to help you form connections and find answers. You can always use meetup.com to find groups that get together in your area, and enter “writers group [your zipcode]” to find organizations and groups local to your area.
Tip #2: Use market lists to find potential publishers
To find a list of publishers in your genre, you should seek out market lists that contain all relevant information for you, including a link to the publisher website or guidelines. A market list will contain word count, pay rate, and “anticipated RT,” or “anticipated response time.” You can go pick up the Writer’s Market from your library and scan it for possible houses, or pay to access its online version. Other popular online market lists include Duotrope, The Market List, and for genre speculative fiction, Ralan.
Tip #3: Focus on your craft
It should go without saying that focusing on developing your craft is probably the easiest thing you can do to get started, but I’m making a point of stating it here because some new writers aren’t sure how to go about doing it.
- Read, read, read. Pay close attention to the mechanics more experienced authors use. Look closely at their “voice,” and figure out what about their writing makes it unique to them.
- Write, write, write. Write everything that comes into your head. Writer articles, write stories, write poems. Just keep putting words to paper and your writing improve. But write consciously – noticing your verbs and your word choice, if nothing else.
- Seek criticism and accept it for what it is – different perspectives offering critical suggestions. Critical doesn’t mean “bad,” it means “thoughtful,” “considered.”
Tip #4: Format and submit your manuscript properly
I have an entire post called “5 Tips for Submitting Your Manuscript” that sums up this point and a few others. But what’s essential to know here is that every publisher has its own list of format preferences. It’s essential to follow these exactly. Additionally, standard manuscript format dictates a few general rules that you should follow unless specifically told to do otherwise:
- Use a readable font, like Times New Roman or Courier New
- Keep your font 12-point
- Set to 1-inch margins – some editors will request 1.25″
- Include page numbers, preferably in the upper right-hand corner
- Each page except your first should have your name, manuscript tile, and page title in the Header portion.
- Include your name, contact information, and word count in the upper left-hand corner of your first page.
Tip #5: Don’t pester editors
Another question most new writers ask is “When do I call or email to ask if they’ve received my manuscript?” This question pops up frequently because as new writers soon discover, getting a yay or nay on a manuscript usually takes about six months – sometimes even longer. It’s important – nay, essential – that writers do not pester the editor about the manuscript until 30 days after the stated response time. So if the anticipated response time is six months, then you should wait seven months before querying. A note: the query letter should be short, polite, and humble. Don’t threaten the editor, don’t try to convince him or her that they should be considering your work, don’t berate or badger. If in doubt, be concise, kind, and clear: include the name of your manuscript, the date of submission, and your contact information.
These are a few of the high points that will guide you into the publishing world gently. Make friends, don’t be afraid to contribute to discussions or criticism of writing just because you’re new, and always assume that you cannot be anal enough about following stated guidelines. No, really. Compulsively follow guidelines. Do this and you will allow your writing to speak for itself.